Ode to 2018

Rainbow sunshine
Grimeshome – Rainbow across Yellowstone Lake

The year comes to an end. It has been long, rough, inexplicable, revealing, sad even. We’ve weathered storms and taken body blows. Some have knocked us out and we have repeatedly recited ‘it’s not how many times you fall that matters, but how many times you get back up’ like a panacea, to little avail. Some of us started the year with a plan, until January punched us hard in the mouth and the heat descended. The fires have blazed hot, both friendly and unfriendly. Somehow they have only served to thicken our skins and make us stronger. The weather has changed dramatically and we have found ourselves overgrown and thus pruned rather than cut off to die. We have made a difference in our bending rather than breaking. Hard tackles from life after allies and foes alike handed us hospital passes as opposing forces closed down on us.

To say that the 2018 ballroom has been tumultuous would be a gross understatement. Every turn since January has brought a twist that needed a Herculean effort to overcome. Thank God He brought trials our way which He knew would make you and I better people after their process. He got some of us to scrap the barrel because He needed our fingers to be strengthened. Yet I know many are those who scrapped that same barrel and broke their digits in the process, scarred for life. And the jungle of life is unforgiving to an injured, disabled, sick or limping animal. Harsh. Those that have little, even the little they have is taken away from them. In holding tight to mine, I have learnt to understand time and season, as a result of which I now envy no one.

The breakthroughs though few and far between, have been deep and immense, and from them we have found courage to keep going, audaciously and persistently like a pack of African wild dogs. Going way past the point where the tank’s red light came on and the fuel gauge indicated Empty. In the process jobs have been found, spouses hooked, babies gotten, degrees attained, assets acquired, birthdays celebrated, ailments healed, marathons undertaken, terrains conquered and goals achieved. But by the same 12-month stretch many have been laid off, divorced, maimed, betrayed, widowed, robbed, orphaned. Indeed many are the soldiers that we have done the battle of life with in 2018; a good number didn’t make it to year-end. We have been spared, collectively and individually, each to find their own truth in the New Year and beyond.

Personally I have learnt to deal with the valleys of minuscule budget; I realized the hills somehow take care of themselves. I have discovered parking bays which charge you a fee for anything between zero and 30min, don’t charge you a shilling for between 30min and 1hr, then resume charges from 1hr onwards. I have also discovered those that don’t charge if you keep validating your parking token before the free period expires. Or that you can fuel at the petrol station nearest to the mall and park at that station as you dash into the mall. That fueling in the night or early morning, especially diesel, does give you a few more litres in the tank than fueling in the midday tropical heat. I have learnt that even when the fuel gauge indicator is on E(nough), so long as it moves when you kick the ignition, it will give you a few more kilometres. From the reserve tank narrative I have internalized peak and off-peak traffic times as well as taken a keen interest in the gradient of roads in Nairobi, to plan my journeys accordingly as much as possible for the car’s momentum to carry me along. Having time on my hands has presented me with the opportunity to discover supermarket and grocery store offers to keep the family ticking along on pennies.

I and many other Kenyans have found out that alas, Systems sometimes work when the right people are manning them, and they can actually weave nets capable of catching big fish. With this knowledge we have as a country recovered over $200m and also come to know that even if it takes 10 days, weeks, months, years, decades, at some point your plundering ways will discover you and shame your dependents. That there do exist riparian reserves which deluges constantly remind us of, and heavy machinery manufacturers like SANY have tools for any storied job under the sun, alongside heart-attack inducing rumbles. That sworn, bitter enemies can become great bosom buddies overnight and instantaneously revolutionize the political class and topple the poisoned chalice; that it then makes no sense to butcher each other with acts and words of hatred and violence over fleeting political beliefs or divides. That if you give a man of integrity and vision a platform on which to perform, he will move the earth and exemplify the true object of a devolved system of government. That sometimes we are better off left to our own devices in resolving the crisis of leadership. That the circus of governing is fluid and global, not domiciled in any specific continent but driven by the clown at the helm; geography notwithstanding.

I lost many friends these past months, to the rigors of my hustle and survival; it is the close-combat cutlass that does most of the fatal damage after all. I have as well gained brothers and sisters for life, who took numerous bullets on my behalf. I have been lucky to be pulled back from the brink of depression. I know one or two people who creeped unnoticed to the edge until it was too late, then they were gone forever. Heavy year indeed. Amongst the losses of greatest impact was that of my sister to pneumonia, when she gave up on life at a time when my brothers and I thought we could fight and fight and fight for her; that was a heavy, devastating body blow.

If you have those friends who keep pulling you towards the true North, who keep calling you out on your bullshit, who give you a pat when everyone is slapping you, who stretch out a hand when you’re on the floor deflecting kicks from other fiends, please grab them with both hands and drag them into 2019 with you; you will need them and they will need you too.

So here we are at the cusp of a fresh run on the calendar; 356 blank sheets with paint and brush in our hands, dexterity in our fingers, mind alive. Not because new dates will change our salaries or spouses or sales targets or work objectives, but because psychologically as human beings we tend to latch onto tangibles of hope and optimism, and everybody loves a fresh start. May you get a deserved return on the faith, love, grit, intellect, experience, network, scars and grace that 2018 has built into you.

It’s midnight in Nairobi… 2018 lies sprawled, battered and spent on the floor at the rear of the ballroom, and she has tapped 2019. Cathy in Melbourne tells me it’s already 7.00am in the New Year so really, nothing new under the sun. Except that many would have wished to see this New Year, to go another round of bout or dance, but did not go beyond the chasm. Are we any special as compared to them? May we make our presence count then. For there are books to be read, qualifications to be pursued, health to be regained, foes to be forgiven, businesses to be launched, proposals to be done, trees to be planted, countries to be visited, babies to be conceived, plots to be developed, diets to be kept, parents to be honoured, closets to be decluttered, friends to be celebrated, manuscripts to be published, offspring to be nurtured, dreams to be realized, risks to be taken, goals to be achieved… the list is endless

Strap on your gloves and get ready to jump into the ring again for the initial ding-dong of round one’s January; fight the good fight. May this New Year fight in your corner, that you may dance on its floor to the music in your heart.

Here is to a great year 2019… Bring it on!

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The Renewable Energy of Hatred

Biogas digester under construction

Okay maybe it’s not fully contextual in a professional setting, but there is an abundant of combustible fuel in the negative energy carried and emitted by others towards us, which oftentimes propels us to heights that we would never have attained from love alone. Because to be honest there is a type of love from loved ones that will get you nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. And there is a type of hatred by loved ones and enemies alike that will get you to your rightful place and enable you achieve your potential. Oxymoron much? Give me a minute to delve…

For those well acquainted with the Bible, Joseph is the greatest proponent of this maxim, being the most beloved of his father Jacob; had English sayings come into effect earlier, every dark cloud has a silver lining would have been apt for his life, from pit to prison to palace. It is a fact that had his brothers loved him as intensely as his father or even just loved him period, Joseph would never have risen to the lofty position of Prime Minister of Egypt and saved his countrymen from apparent and imminent extermination.

By the same vein Judas was perfect at what he was created to do. That’s how we should see the negative things that happen in our lives – they were perfect at what they were chosen to do. Because what do they end up doing? Push you into your destiny and set your personality; they pull you from faith to faith; they bring you out of your lax comfort zone into your growth zone; they make you have to trust God; they make you build self-reliance in yourself. Honestly you must be grateful for the Judases in your life; they were chosen to hurt you and to betray you. And when they betrayed you they liberated you from yourself and from themselves. How about an applause to them for being the haters that they have been in your life.

Johnny Cash postures that trust gets you killed, love gets you hurt, and being real gets you hated. Yet we are better people for trusting, loving and being real rather than the contrary qualities. And ultimately sharper and wiser in our dealings.

King Saul’s hatred for the young and gifted David forced the lad to keep refining his skills at playing music for the King to improve his mood, as well as to keep his reflexes alert so as to avert danger and serious harm from the random dangerous projectiles that the King hurled his way at will. That ire caused David to elevate his emotional intelligence to deal with the blessings and risks in the King’s court, and having thus developed these skills he survived when the King was hunting him down to death, and David was himself a better leader when the time came for him to ascend to the throne. It really is better to bend than to break.

Which high school teachers of yours are etched in memory? Or had the greatest impact on your high school education? I bet you they were the tormentors, not the ones who showed you love. For me one Germanic Terror comes to mind, a man who made it his mission to instill such fear and nightmares in our teenage years that when I think about him I can only recall boys peeing their pants, climbing out of classroom windows and crying like toddlers at his bellow. He beat us to bleat like goats; he seemed to take such delight in our torment. And yet, his crude delivery of lessons on how to be a man, stuck with us to this day. I dare say many lads from my high school still regard him as a cult hero of sorts, even in death.

In my days heading a young vibrant team of account and service managers, I thought I was doing a great job of instilling a values system and getting everyone to step up to the plate in the way I knew best, by connecting with the team. Many benefited from my getting them to give their best. But at one of those open-mic appraisal sessions, a service manager called me out on being too soft on them, that she would have preferred me getting the best out of them, pushing them, harassing them. I didn’t think being humane would have a long term negative behavioral effect, but in retrospect I feel bad that I treated everyone equally when the situation necessitated that some get tougher treatment than others, to better themselves.

Thankfully we are pruned to grow rather than cut off to die. In that particular aspect, like Samson the Nazirite, the hair will grow again and the comeback will be stronger than the setback. We better appreciate the taste of a carabao mango when we have been subsisting on lime. Because some qualities cannot be explained but can only be experienced. The lessons garnered in the valley carry us further than those acquired at the top of the mountain. Because not much learning happens when we are at the top.

The best thing about the worst time of your life is that you get to see the true colours of everyone that you care(d) for. And this mindsight gives you the right mental chambers to maintain, and clearly shows you which ones to discard as blanks. Because your mind is a weapon and it makes sense to keep it loaded for your own protection, comfort and confidence, to face each new day. Remember you are being constantly propelled by negative vibes, and the better you become the more intense the external hatred could become. Growing up we only threw sticks and stones at trees with fruit; not those without. So it is in human life, I realized. Missiles are coming your way because you are productive.

The crazy thing about confidence is that the more our confidence grows, the scarier we become to fearful people around us. Your flame will grow, and it may singe people who do not want to see you become any bigger than you are. They could be our coworkers, family members or long term friends. They like us, but they like us in a little box. If we dare to step out of the box they might not like us that much anymore – and if we are lucky they will let us know this in the way they behave towards us and our progress in life. Boxes made by people other than ourselves are not very good things to stay in, and one reason it is hard to step out of them is because doing so can upset those people.

Most of us mere mortals and average folks dislike conflict, so we agree to stay in those little boxes rather than upset anyone. One day it becomes too painful, too constricting to stay in the little box any more, and we step out. Naturally, many of the people around us are unhappy about it and they dissuade us from our pursuits, fight us while we are chasing our goals and dreams. Eventually we realize that that is their journey, and it is not our job to make them feel better or to keep them comfortable in whatever boxes contain them. Because now we have the singular job in life, of following our own path. The people around us will adjust, or they will fall away and new people will show up, better equipped to help us fulfil our potential. But the fights and battles we engaged in with them to prove ourselves before we knew better, will have helped improve us and ready us for the right audience, right market. Like the champion salesperson, we will have a point to prove to the naysayers and haters as we venture out in spite of their efforts. Meaning we will constantly play at the top of our skillset to survive, and consistently punch above our weight to thrive. Don’t you just love the energy that your haters infuse in you?

Having thus understood this energy, I have learnt to not get upset with people or situations, because both are powerless without my reaction. Simply put, without my reaction, people and/or situations have no power over me. I find the freedom that this releases to other facets of my person to be deeply invigorating, and the output that I am able to achieve is satisfying to no end. Not everyone was brought into your life to support your hustle, or contribute to your fund, or share a job opening, or attend your launch, listen to your music or buy your book. Once you understand this, your inner peace increases and overall well-being improves, especially your mental health.

Back yourself up, especially when the odds are heavily stacked up against you. Passion and enthusiasm are contagious even to your enemies; keep those (fr)enemies close to ensure that the fire in you keeps burning. You do need to build or strengthen your foundation, so the bricks that they throw your way will come in handy. Don’t be blind to your haters, don’t waste their waste; channel the energy instead to fire your turbines. Convert their refuse into your manure and biogas. The world could do with a fired-up you. Light it up!

See Your Life

Pfeiffer Beach Keyhole, Big Sur California
Pfeiffer Beach Keyhole – Big Sur California

We should all be obligated to appear before a board every 5 years and justify our existence… on pain of liquidation – George Bernard Shaw

There is an old adage that goes – ‘No one is useless in this world; where you can’t be of use you can be of example’. Many of us are busy living our lives while seeking permission for our existence from others. One of my uncles has an informed perspective on this attribute, being a highly successful real estate investor. Throughout his career, he has had countless people ask him if they should go into real-estate. He tells every one of them the same thing: Don’t do it. In fact, he actually tries talking most of them out of it. And in majority of instances he succeeds.

Why would he do that?

Because those who are going to succeed will do so regardless of what he says to them. This is true too in regard to all other appealing career or entrepreneurial endeavours.

I know so many people who are in perpetual pursuit of whatever worked for others. They never truly decide what they want to do, and end up jumping from one thing to the next, rolling to the next stop, next town, trying to strike quick gold or gather some moss. And repetitively, they stop digging just a few feet from the gold after deciding the spot is barren. For some it starts way before in basic things like picking degree courses that popular students are taking, to end up as one of the 200 scholars studying one book. Or like myself, wasting my first 2 years of high school living a life that I thought met the expectations of the school miscreants just so I could feel like I fitted in, with a group that I didn’t even like. But the worst are the copycats. Just because James opened a barber shop at the corner shop and by all appearances it is thriving, doesn’t mean you should also do the same right next to his stall. Why can’t you open a hair products shop instead to serve his ready clientele?

We continuously allow too many things access to our mind, some which are of little use; we are simply asking to be kept in a state of mental turmoil or bondage. Because as Dallas Willard postured, everything that enters the mind will have an effect, either for good or for evil. Simply put, you are what you feed your mind. Benjamin Disraeli put it even more bluntly – nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think. I refuse to allow other people’s limited perceptions to define me or my abilities.

No one will ever give you permission to live your dreams, largely because no one even understands our dreams. Our focus is usually so locked on seeking out angels to elevate us that we miss out on the angles that we should take. Rather than hoping for something external to change our circumstances, would we not be better off mentally re-framing ourselves and our circumstances in ways that help us maintain control of our lives? Wayne Dye cleverly states that when you change the way you see things, the things you see also change. At the end of the day, you are enough. And enough also means unique, which is better than being the best. Because the best means constantly competing with others which occasionally gets you to number one; on the other hand being unique makes you the only one. Always.

It also means you can do whatever you decide to do. You can answer life’s questions in your own way.

The responsibility to ourselves dictates that we make the decisions and forget what everyone else says or thinks about them. Because a time must come when you are done with trying to figure out who is with you, against you or straddling the fence scared to show their true colors, without the guts that deliver decisiveness. When you realize how golden inner peace is. Because you understand that opinions are a dime a dozen, that validation is for parking, that some people are a blessing but majority are a lesson, and that loyalty isn’t a word but a lifestyle. When it finally hits you that life is way too short to leave the keys to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.

Being happy gives you the mindset to work on and become the best version of yourself. Becoming the best version of yourself must be one of your life’s purposes, and has got to be the ultimate measure of success. It follows that you must guard your inner peace with your heart soul and mind; you must protect the things that give you inner peace at all costs. This is part of self-love, and self-love doesn’t hurt. Too many of us are happy to continuously wallow in misery by exaggerating our place in other people’s hearts and lives, much to our detriment when we finally realize too late that we didn’t matter that much to them. Know your worth, and continuously build your worth. With this self-discovery of your value and what it deserves from others, find the courage to leave the table every time that respect is not being served.

I only know of maybe two careers in which employees determine by themselves how much they can earn – Sales, and African Legislation. The rest of us just “say” we want to be successful. But if we really wanted to, we’d be successful. Unfortunately we have hot-wired ourselves to similar or like poles between heart and mind, which repel each other and repel our best efforts at setting our life-sails on the most profitable course.

I used to tell myself (and a few other people) how I wished I could transfer the thoughts and ideas in my head onto paper. Then a close friend told me, “No you don’t. Because if you did, you’d get down to it today.” I stopped saying it, because he was right. And I swallowed the Nike and just did it.

Life is a matter of priority and decision. And when it comes to money which is one of life’s greatest motivations, in a free-market economy you can make as much money as you choose (Sales Managers and motivational speakers love this line). The question is, how much money do you really want to make? How do you create in yourself the kiln you need to smelt the rock and extract your gold?

Instead of vegging on social media day-after-day, year-after-year spewing forth useful and not so useful ventilation and most times just being utterly hooked to happenings and trends that have no meaningful significance to your life today, you could spend an hour or two each day building something of value, like yourself. Downtime is filled with so many inspirational moments of creativity, but our constant email, instant messages and chats can’t allow the ideas to flow through. It is actually in missing out that one stands out. Because otherwise social media is sharing with the multitude those same images and breaking news and trends at the same time, and herding us to think alike in a certain way. There really is no time to daydream any more, and so no time to be imaginative. Nor to gather wisdom, which requires observation and listening more than studying and being up to date.

In my younger days when I was too wise to see other people’s wisdom, someone thrust into my hands Napoleon Hill’s effervescent and ever-green Think and Grow Rich. Hill invites readers to write down on a piece of paper the amount of money they want to make, and to put a time-line on it. This single act will challenge you to think and act in new ways to create the future of your wanting. I cannot say I followed my timeline and kept the milestones to the latter, but just putting down the plan filled me with such excitement that it became easy to keep pushing myself in whichever firm I worked for since like keeping a pet, I was managing a living thing. I am still on the timeline even though the line ahead seems to have grown longer than the line behind. Perhaps because I’m finding lots of useful things to put into its pockets for pleasant surprises later.

You for example must have read about the struggles that the actor Jim Carrey went through while growing up, where they were so poor that at some point he and his family lived in their Volkswagen kombi van parked on a relative’s lawn. Yet the man had so much belief and faith in himself and his talents that every night in the late 1980s, Carrey would drive atop a large hill that looked down over the city of Los Angeles, and mentally visualize directors valuing his work. At that time, he was a broke and struggling young comic. One night in 1990, while looking down on Los Angeles and dreaming of his future, Carrey wrote himself a cheque for $10 million and put in the notation line “for acting services rendered.” He dated the check for Thanksgiving 1995 which was 5 years away, and stuck it in his wallet. He gave himself five years. And just before the Thanksgiving of 1995, he got paid $10 million for Dumb and Dumber.

You will be amazed at how much power you continuously cede to people to lord it over your life even when they add no tangible value to your existence; you are actually a prop in their social profile. When do you stop pursuing people and places that are happening and start creating some of that happening for other people to pursue your dreams? How much of your own dreams, ideas and ideals do you give up just to fit into other people’s plans? Is it because the people you share your dreams with find them quirky, outlandish and ridiculous? Well, those dreams are in you for a reason; they are not with them because they can’t bring them to life while you can. You are equipped for the task of birthing you visions and aspirations. It could in fact be the purpose of your existence, this birthing.

Creatives – meaning everyone – have their ‘zone’ which is usually a moment maybe once in their lifetime when their eyes are opened to the mechanics and behind-the-scenes of their craft. Until you have this moment, it all seems like magic to you. You have no idea how people create what they create. After you have this moment, you realize that everything is done by a person intentionally creating a particular experience which leaves a lasting impact. When you look at what goes into a blockbuster or any movie for that matter, the final product is very much the blueprint of the director; each set, every shot, lighting, costumes, characters and landscapes, the whole film’s feel and portrayal. It all would have looked and felt completely different based on the experience a different director was trying to create.

And just like that for the film that is our lives, there is no right or wrong way. Rather, it’s about doing things your way. Until you experience this “moment” for yourself, you’ll continue attempting the correct or best way to do things. You’ll never stay long enough on the correct lane to experience the opening up of traffic ahead for you to blaze your trail. You’ll continue driving other people’s cars to their destination and not to yours; you’ll continue copying other people’s work and living their lives.

But if you persist on your path with your own creative juices and strong will, you’ll rightfully become disillusioned by those who were once your idols because their dreams were never yours. Because they are people just like you and me. They’ve just made a decision to create in their own way. Just like you can. As you create you will understand fern-and-bamboo lessons. Their seeds will be planted at the same time and given the same amount of water and sun; fern will sprout almost immediately and cover the ground in no time, while bamboo will take 5 years to sprout then 6 months to reach 100m in height.

The idea of imitation will become abhorrent, freeing you to create as you see fit. You’ll emerge with your own voice and original work. You’ll be less troubled about how your work is received and more focused on creating something you believe in. Purpose will be a great by-product of your strife. You will realize that all along you had everything you needed to be successful right there in your hand. You’ll get off your butt, give yourself a good kick in the rear and get on with the business of not drifting through but living your life and thriving at it. And you will forever be grateful for the formative pain that made you raise your game.

Learning to Respect the Process

Gold - Searchlight Minerals Corp

The poem “And God Said No” was written in 1980 by Claudia Minden Weisz, a woman raised in an alcoholic home, whose sister was murdered, and whose daughter was diagnosed with a severe disorder requiring 24-hour care. The list of her suffering and trauma could go on and on, probably akin to Job in the Old Testament. In the piece Claudia makes supplication to God where, repeatedly and to almost every plea, God says No. So she starts a conversation akin to an ode around the blessing in no, with God ‘justifying’ His every response; until she gets to God’s Yes.

Anyone who has had the privilege of growing up into the grind in any African city knows it is a gradual peeling of the onion at every level, and Nairobi is no different. It is amazing the way the universe opens the way for those who ‘know’ where they are going. In quotes because no one really knows where they are going for sure; most can however accurately predict where they will be in the next minute, hour, day, week, month, year in their career from what they are doing today, based on actions within their control. More like doing today what nobody will do so that you can get tomorrow what nobody can reach.

It is amazing that in my days of ‘tarmacking’ on foot, my path was always littered with people selling thick-soled sturdy shoes, and at every corner there was a shoe-shiner. Avunjas were the default footware; tough-skinned leather shoes that were plain and sturdy, more like factory floor shoes and designed to walk thousands of kilometres. Avunja loosely means breaker, due in part to the damage that this footware could inflict if the wearer deliberately and inadvertently trod on you. Considering the mileage I covered, there was also, by some act of fate and guided steps, always a man roasting corn, selling peanuts, peddling sweets at the end of most roads. It wasn’t too hard to get a few coins to buy these, and even borrowing from the next man on the street was within their strain. Additionally, without too much investment into hygiene and of course without a medical cover of any sort, the immune system was somehow at its peak with extremely versatile white blood cells.

With time I got a gig as a ‘machingas’ which loosely translated means hauling plastic-ware and cheap melamine across Nairobi as I hawked a unique type of FMCGs. The advertisement had said ‘Sales Jobs’ and insisted on official trousers, shirt and tie as a dress code. That read to me like a neat job. It was neat of course, until I realized in shock while in the custody of city council security men that I needed a license to hawk in Nairobi, and because I left my ID at the warehouse every morning as a bond for the merchandise I was given to sell for 10% commission, every time I got stopped by the city council askaris I had neither permit nor ID. Whenever they confiscated my wares, they needed their palms to be greased for release of my cargo, or if the grease was more than the cost of the merchandise then I simply went to repatriate my identification with money equivalent to that day’s wares.

Sometimes you got ambushed and robbed by street urchins. Other times your customers conned you with fake notes. This was the process of street legitimacy. I was already well-versed in the lay of Nairobi, but from my stint as a machinga I became an expert. And I also started taking public service vehicles with some of the 10% commission I made. Meaning now I was encountering lunch spots and kiosk eateries strategically set up at or near bus stops. And classier cobblers, better-quality shoe shiners. Again, raising bus-fare within those circles wasn’t too herculean. The occupation was shifting and shaping the territory, though I do know a couple of my fellow machingas who stuck in that trade for life.

Time and education do deliver. And I soon landed an ‘office’ job which came with round-the-clock food, hot showers, uniform and staff transport to and from home. This was the ultimate bachelor’s dream, and it didn’t matter too much what I was earning at that 5-star hotel. Heck, there were countless high-profile guests checking in and out at any one time, daily tips to blow at the theatre and on harsh spirits, and working with all those sharp, beautiful people raised one’s collective game. Of course by this time the sole on the shoe I now wore was significantly thinner and custom-made for polished floors, carpeted hallways and that sort of class. But the job came with the occasional abusive guest, with little personal growth, long unpredictable hours, the pay was small enough to be dispensed in physical cash, and still had no need of a money purse. Yet many of my former colleagues still successfully hold their ground there.

Then the transition to using taxis happened as selling insurance and personal financial products came along. Lean pockets did necessitate taking PSVs to the shopping centre nearest to the client’s office, then hopping into the most decent available cab for the last mile to the client because image is everything when building trust on that personal level. Otherwise the client would be unable to reconcile your looks and the monthly premium you were trying to convince him to sign up for, fearing that it might not even get to the underwriter’s office. The garb metamorphosis was critical in this aspect. You just needed to know the taxi ranks in Nairobi so you could plan the movement of your image accordingly. And now you had to have a wallet to carry your business cards and those you got from clients in exchange, even those out to embarrass your trade and belittle your persona. And also because ‘fine’ gentlemen carry money in a wallet, not folded between their fingers. To date former peers comfortably still run that gauntlet.

Fast-forward to a job or two later when I bought my first car, and now the battle was no longer about kiosks and shoe shiners and taxi cabs with pungent odours of a damp bedroom full of 4-day-used socks, to the cost of fuel, and the dearth of parking spots, and the high cost of service kits. Now the shoe sole was thinnest, and there was the luxury of a hook in the rear compartment of the automobile, on which to hang one’s coat. And numerous places in which to keep one’s wallet. Additionally it wasn’t odd to ‘borrow’ gas money from friends who drove, or exchanging vehicles for different purposes; it was within their limits. Grown up? Not really. In fact my venture into ‘employed’ was not any more special than yours, and we can all write volume upon volume on these. Those reflections simply help us assess the progress of the process. And to respect the process.

If you look at the roughly 14-day journey that the unsightly caterpillar takes from egg through larvae and pupa to emerge as a beautiful butterfly, you would be tempted to have it harried out of its chrysalis into rapid beauty. Alas, anything unnaturally cutting short this final process also cuts short the butterfly’s life, seeing as it is during the butterfly’s struggle to get out of pupal stage that the necessary juices are pumped into what will become its wings, to strengthen them for the life ahead. Really not too dissimilar with how a new-born baby’s first cry helps fill its lungs with vital oxygen to get its organs going. Because everything has its place and time, and nature is perfect in her execution of seasons and processes.

If you want to know how important the process is, just look at the silver-spooners in any workplace who didn’t have to struggle through the ranks but suddenly sit on the ranks; generals who have never been on the battlefield nor fired a single round except in the controlled environment of a shooting range. Edifice-owners whose castles came up so fast they are literally built on wooden stilts, more often than not prefabricated by someone else. Lost because they couldn’t understand what the other fellow was doing with steel anchor bolts and frames and trusses, spending the whole year on joints and slabs and beams. Lost because pride and wisdom don’t sit too well together.

The steel structure takes forever to come up, but it is unshaken by politics and market upheavals and staff exits, price wars, shareholder withdrawals and corporate espionage; the structure can handle disruption. On the wooden tower of the entitled, never having come through the ranks to understand the lay of the land and what the job on the ground entails, the meteor gives little regard to rank and file and prefers to hobnob with the lofty classes. When competition blows a foul wind his way the tumble is more rapid than was the rise because he has no idea what built the edifice in the first place so cannot latch onto a single safety truss. In chasing attention and adulation he lost sight of the building blocks of respect. Process could have helped set the cement but no.

The problem with such bequeathed altitude is you can climb too high for your own good. It is possible to ascend too far, to stand too tall, and to elevate too much. Like Moses, one must come down the mountain from time to time, lest you find the minions have overthrown you. Linger too long at high altitudes, and two of your most important survival senses suffer. First your hearing dulls; it is hard to hear people when you are higher than they are. Their voices grow distant, and sentences seem muffled. Secondly when you are up there, your eyesight dims, because it’s hard to focus on people when you are so far above them; they appear so small. Little figures with no faces. You can hardly distinguish one from the other; they all look alike, these minions. You don’t hear them. You don’t see them. You are above them. Coming through the ranks or understanding the ranks is a safeguard against losing these two critical senses.

Which is the reason why one of my more illustrious former employers always insisted on a program called ‘In Your Shoes’ which helped expose different facets of the business to people who would otherwise never bother to know what happened in other divisions. Anyone who went through the program understood different roles and departments from top to bottom, and was better equipped to do the right thing for the customer, the company and their colleague, which meant less customer complaints, a happier workplace and prosperity for all.

Another former employer, the 5-star hotel, was even more thorough in running a 1-month induction for new staff who had to serve in all the hotel’s departments before finally settling into their role. This produced a refined hotelier who could help fill in for Reservations, or serve in the Ballroom in times of shortage, or man the Switchboard, or make beds in the guest chambers. At the worst they could offer first-contact assistance to any guest regardless of the issue raised, instead of just dumping the problem to the next available colleague. Another example of well-dyed wool was in one of the largest local retail supermarkets in Kenya that has recently plummeted almost to obscurity, which had arguably the best attendants and staffers in its ranks; people who had such a great understanding of all their stalls and shelves, and also had no problem stepping aside for you the shopper to pass on a narrow aisle. Which is more than can be said of the new kings in that space, whose staff are always competing and jostling for space with shoppers.

Processes bake us and equip us for work. Work, even the most basic chore, involves solving a problem. Meaning without problems there is no work; we may as well run around the Garden of Eden in our birthday suits and sleep on trees. Hardships are attendants of processes, to shape and mould, to grow and strengthen. Muscles which are flexed frequently are strongest. Genuinely connecting with as many people as possible is an antidote to altitude sickness and sender-addiction, also known as order-issuing. Just look at David the great King, and how many times he ‘sends’ in the Bathsheba story. He sends Joab to battle as he should. But he also sends the servant to inquire about Bathsheba. And he sends for Bathsheba to have her come to him. When David learns of her pregnancy, he sends word to Joab to send Uriah back to Jerusalem. David sends him to Bathsheba to rest, but Uriah is too noble. David opts to send Uriah back to a place in the battle where he is sure to be killed. Thinking his cover-up is complete, David sends for Bathsheba and marries her. You can’t like this sending, demanding David too much. What has happened to him? Simple; altitude sickness. He has been too high too long. The thin air has messed with his senses. He can’t hear as he used to, can’t grasp a sling nor play a harp like he used to. He can’t hear the warnings of the servant or the voice of his conscience. Nor can he hear his Lord.

But are we up to the challenge of the process? Can we sit still while the cement sets? While the paint dries? While the seed sprouts? While the hair grows again? While we master our current role so that the promotion is deserved, earned and justified? Yet just as we deceive ourselves into believing something will make us happier than it will, we oftentimes also deceive ourselves into believing something will be more difficult than it will, and thus spend a lot of time and energy bracing ourselves. The longer we brace or procrastinate the more our psyche exaggerates the issue. However, once we take action, the discomfort is far less severe than imagined. Even to extremely difficult things, humans adapt. Just because you took longer than others doesn’t mean you failed.

On this bicycle called life, to keep balance we have to keep pedaling, we have to keep moving. The problem with dread and fear is that it holds people back from taking on big challenges, from making the steps needed to get out of the pupa, to grow from walking to riding the bus, to driving, to flying. What you will find, no matter how big or small the challenge, is that you will adapt to it. When you consciously adapt to enormous stress, you evolve. And no is part of the process; it really is. How do you trust the process in the face of no? The journey up the mountain is fraught with loneliness, brokenness, broke-ness, doubt and distress. But the walk, the tying of trusses, fixing bolts, buttressing pillars, mixing sand-ballast-cement… these are most fulfilling works.

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. Convention is where we are. Breaking convention is how human beings evolve, which requires a gargantuan quantity of failure. Fidel Castro’s quip was that it is the adventurers, romantics and the dreamers who move humanity forward. Seth Godin’s take is if I fail more than you do, I win.

We will inevitably encounter many ‘no’ responses while the process ensues. We will be hurt, deceived, stabbed both in the back and in the face, disillusioned while people less-endowed than us are given the long end of the stick and rise to lord it over us due to other inexplicable ‘processes’. We will fail many times, and each failure will give us invaluable feedback. We will move from failure to failure as part of the process, as we move forward. Setting the swamp on fire will not be easy, but when you get it right it makes the process worthwhile, and sets you up to conquer greater heights, one step at a time. This conscious, exerted effort toward something you’ve never done before is incredibly liberating.

Many times the tough experiences that we go through, the impossible hand that we draw in the game of life, put us directly on the path to the best opportunities that will ever happen to us. Life itself is a naturally efficient fractionating column; its distillation mechanism separates each of us from a mixture into component parts by applying heat on our individual journeys, and we each pop out as individual pure compounds, at different times. We will each discard our avunjas at different points. The process will have different outcomes on each. Respect the process.

Finding Names for our Steps

The Mountains where Abune Yemata Guh Church is Located 02082018
Olivier Grunewald ~ The Mountains where Abune Yemata Guh Church is Located, Ethiopia

When any other part of your body gets sick you receive sympathy, but this disease comes with a package called shame ~ RubyWax

It is when we are at our most vulnerable, as life’s experiences illuminate us, that we realize how fleeting our existence can be. But that still doesn’t stop us from chasing perfection daily, even when there is no motivation, no inspiration in perfection. The tyre with deep cuts and hideous grooves has better traction on any road than the perfectly smooth one. Considering how unpredictably the winds blow nowadays, we have to keep adjusting and shifting our sails to stay alive and in motion. Because even when your life is on the right track, you will be run over by the train if you sit still. Somehow you must find quick feet, a flexible mind and a light heart. Especially a light heart. It is not easy to move around nimbly while carrying excess baggage. Travel light.

The question is, how does a particularly unique lot of people get through their days, weeks months while stuck in a rut, in difficult circumstances that would otherwise crush them? Yes, what do you do when there is a prolonged habitation in the valley, and in spite of your best efforts nothing seems to change for the better? The situations vary – poor sales numbers, being an introvert, out of sorts in a foreign land as a stranger, lonely among a crowd of your own people, jobless, bereaved, separated, dumped, inflicted by prolonged illness, running a fledgling enterprise in a depressed economy without the right connections; catalysts that drive our minds to clutch at straws are unending.

How do you step beyond ‘it is well’ and actually find your mojo? How do you recapture your groove? Where do you find this music that you are bearing in your heart, long after it was heard no more? How do you move from understanding the lyrics because of sadness, to enjoying the music because of joy? It’s called life for a reason; it has no simple answers. Finding a passion to rouse you daily and pursuing it can be an elixir, but it’s easier said than done. Mental illness is real and is no respecter of money, aristocracy or education. Graveyards across the world are replete with great personalities whose deep pains were never noticed until it was too late; from iconic disc jockeys to celebrity chefs, brilliant cardiologists, award-winning actors…

I have had opportunity to walk that valley in its various forms, where hours of strife quickly and easily turn into days of thunder and years of storm, as everyone watches and wonders. I have met kindred who look and smell like myself in that state, eyes glazed and drifting through life waiting for the inevitable rigor mortis to set in. The worst ones of course are those for whom everything seems fine on the outside, where you and I cannot tell what storms they are enduring, how half of the world is perched on their shoulders. It is hard to reach out to them because you cannot discern them. And most of the time they don’t want to be found as they tread the slippery slope. Until it’s too late. It’s amazing how next door to happiness lives so much sorrow, yet happiness struggles to discern it. To not have your suffering recognized really is an almost unbearable form of violence. Please, if you haven’t touched base with such people in a while since their spouse left, or they lost their job, or their child/parent/loved one passed away, or since that traumatic experience they went through, reach out today. They need to be helped to turn the light back on again. Depression is the silent killer within our midst. Is there anything we can do before we go too far down the slope?

Life has no straight answers for those struggling to stay afloat. The human heart and mind are self-healing, but it takes time and effort. The best you can do is fall in love again; with yourself first so that you can be good to you, then with your loved ones. It’s impossible to pour from an empty cup. Important to figure out who your loved ones are while you’re at it. Of course dream big in spite of present circumstances; there are no limits and dreams are free anyway. Remember you once dreamt of being a medical doctor, until the pipettes in the biology lab messed with your head on exam day. Have some wine if you are tolerant; it does give a hand to your stomach enzymes, besides making you mellow and great company to hang around.

Eat great food that invigorates and not saps you, and spend quality time with good friends; food is a great enabler of conversations and connections in these parts. Which is why in many communities before commencement of great events like dowry negotiations the parties share a meal. On a full belly all is well with man and the world. Just be careful not to dig your grave with your own knife and fork. As you sink into the abyss your appetite is muted and you get weaker faster, both mentally and physically. Find a laugh every day. Of course there is enough hilarity in this world to give you a laugh daily; pursue this simple joy like your mental health depends on it. Because it does. Keep close to fellows who crack you up. While at it, slip into childhood and believe in magic; life is so much simpler that way, and the walk in the valley is more pleasant. And hey, some magic does work. As you discover which one works and which doesn’t, the heat of the sun feels less intense. While walking down that road of science, if you have access to medical care, have your vitals checked with some frequency; depression lowers immunity such that storms are sudden, and when it rains it pours.

Tell stories. This is a life-saving skill that everyone should cultivate; learn to spin a good yarn, to trade war stories. It comes rather naturally to sales folks, but we can all learn how to, regardless of our backgrounds or occupations. Believe it or not I once had the most industrious boss who delivered his numbers like clockwork. He had a peer who wasn’t as industrious, but had a massive anointing of the gab gift. Every quarter when performance was up for review, in spite of the fact that our unit consistently posted stellar numbers, my boss and our team would always find ourselves on the receiving end of some choice words from the resident director, while the man with the tongue was receiving a round of applause without any numbers to speak of. Learn to tell your story.

Appreciate how far you’ve come; keep the mind yearning for better by reminiscing on the good old days and their lessons, even as you look with optimism to the future. Travel often; stay in motion. Those witty people from Bambara in West Africa say no matter how long a log stays in water it cannot become a crocodile. Strive to understand your environment and its possibilities. Learn more; expand the mind because it never goes back to its prior unlearned state. Know your limits; know your lane. Then enjoy exceeding them; burst your banks, get out of your lane, as it’s the only way of overtaking. Be creative; dare to do, to attain, to pass, to excel. Spend time with people you admire; revel in their presence and soak in their knowledge, knowing you cannot be wise by their wisdom, but only knowledgeable by their knowledge. Seize opportunities when they reveal themselves; dawn does not come twice to awaken the sleeping. He curses the rain who has no seed in the ground. Love with all your heart; it helps to extinguish hatred which can seep through without notice. Never give up; so long as you still have breathe and we still have trees on the planet, never give up. In being a co-creator, plant a tree to commemorate your fighting stoic spirit. Do what you love, because you will enjoy it and others will enjoy your company as you pursue your passion.

Everyone says be true to who you are, and they say this even to people who don’t know who they really are. Self-discovery is startling; a man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle. But simple things fill our hearts with joys that no fortune can buy. Like an evening stroll through the park as the shadows are lengthening and birds of the day are doing their dusk roll-call. Spend time with family; discover the hard truths and build on them. Travel light and forgive even when it’s hard; emptying the barn of husks makes room for seed and grain. Smile often; your face is at its best in this state, and it forces the heart to gladden. Be grateful especially for the small things; greet your security guard, receptionist, tea lady and cleaner by their name, especially when you don’t need anything from them. We spend majority of our lives in the workplace; we might as well enjoy the shifts, get along with workmates. But don’t concern yourself too much with things that don’t concern you; if it’s not your business, don’t make it your burden unless you can carry it stoically.

Share the loose change; it may be the difference between someone riding on the bus or walking a couple of kilometres home. And while at it, be the change you wish to see in your neighbourhood and in your workplace; that’s your immediate world which you can immediately impact. Then go back to following your dreams; paint, sing, write, build, teach, cultivate, learn, grow, ask, pitch. Try new things, and dare to do; what’s the worst than can happen anyway? Put in the honest shift, and where possible do today what you can do tomorrow so that tomorrow you can do what nobody else can do. Keep track of your laughs. Take the blows that change brings your way to grow you out of your comfort zone; roll with the punches and throw some of your own at life. Embrace the wind and the seasons it brings. Know thyself and trust thyself. Trust others too, but verify; because the world today is such that artificial lemon flavor is used for a welcome drink and real lemons are used in the finger bowl.

Be thankful to God, whoever you take Him to be; it could have been worse, as it is worse for many. Make a deliberate attempt to be nice to everyone; it has more rewards than being nasty. As you fix your internal system, find happiness. Even as you plan and strategize and save for tomorrow, live for today as it is after all, the present. And above all, make every moment count! Morning shall come. Your now is not your forever. The hair will grow again. The sun will rise again. The wounds will close and heal with beautiful scars. You are the sum total of all those beautiful souls out there who built you up with their goodwill and positive criticism. But remember your spine was built by those you ceded power to and who tried to break you; find a way of thanking them, say by being successful. If it has failed to kill you, it has served the purpose of making you stronger. Step away from the substance, from the situation, from the boss, from the relationship, from the company; your health and well-being are more important than these. There is nothing new under the sun. In each of us, in the depths and bowels of our winter exists an invincible summer; sometimes we discover it too late, if at all. Don’t let some person dim your light simply because it’s shining in their eyes.

I can’t emphasize more; you know them. Since you’re not them you probably know them. They changed, became withdrawn, evasive, erratic, elusive. They are in the mire of their situation; a night, a season, a phase. You are aware. Extend some humanity; give them a call, send a text, share an encouraging message. Don’t tell them you know what they are going through; you can only imagine. Don’t regurgitate the ‘it is well’ because you can only hope that it is. Just stand in the gap, proffer your hand, hold theirs; lift someone up in prayer. The world will be a better place for your action.

I just realized that this was an unstructured note to self, and it’s only half the story. Ah well, enjoy your monologue too, and may it make you lighter. Say hi to that person always striving hard to remain invisible in the office.

No, Time is not Money

Time is Not Money 19072018
Marc Newson’s Hodinkee Hourglass

You believe time is money? No its not. Why do I say so? Because money cannot compare to time; time is dearer than money. Because you cannot borrow time, can hardly create time beyond taking advantage of what it avails to you, cannot recover time when you lose it, cannot save time for later use or lending to others. Because you cannot really put a value to time, otherwise no employer would be able to afford anyone to work for them. Even Leo Tolstoy says the two most powerful warriors are patience and time; no mention of money.

Assuming in your daily rat-race you occasionally get five minutes of downtime, how do you spend that time? Spend here is deliberate because time is rarely acquired but always utilized, most often as a depreciating resource. How do you spend those five minutes? Most of us use them as an excuse to rest or laze. Lazing for 5 five-minute breaks each day translates into at least 25 minutes daily, and 9,125 minutes per year at a minimum. Truth is this laze is easily extrapolated beyond 5min per day, meaning we’re wasting far more time than this.

Imagine if you read a book nay, indulged in mental intercourse with more superior minds every time you had a break – even if the break was just for a minute or two; your current intellect and I dare say wisdom, would be the sum total of the ideas and insights of the authors you read from. How we spend our periodic five-minute breaks is a determining factor in what we achieve in our lives. Every little bit seen and unseen, conscious and subconscious, deliberate and accidental, adds up.

And yet we justify wasting so much time. Because we are in the trenches. Because we have crazy targets, timelines, milestones. Because our bosses or jobs won’t give us the prolonged breaks we deserve. So we have no way of grasping the time at hand to do today what others won’t do – the proverbial extra mile – so that we can achieve tomorrow what others can’t and thereby break free from the choke-hold of our current dreary cycle of existence, chasing paper in the wind.

Difficult things take a long time, and impossible things a little longer. If you don’t purposefully carve time out every day to progress and improve, without question your time will get lost in the vacuum of our increasingly crowded, tech-controlled lives. Before you know it, you’ll be old and withered – wondering where all that time went. Because time really is the most valuable asset we own, and how we use it is the best indicator of where our future is going to take us.

A clever soul – Meredith Willson – has opined that if you pile up enough tomorrows, you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays.

The other day a couple of friends and I, as we are wont to do every year, hauled ourselves onto the Lewa Conservancy track in Laikipia to the North of Kenya, to subject our sane selves to a torrid 21km run in the Safaricom Marathon. While at it I amazed myself by knocking off 13min from my finishing time of last year; all those friends that I train with posted improvements on their personal best times as well. Now, where you and I sit behind our desks, 13min really is nothing and passes in a flash; you probably take longer having a cup of coffee on your morning break. But to anyone engaged in a strenuous activity such as gym repetitions, carrying a load, sitting in traffic or plodding up hilly terrain in sweltering heat, those are significant minutes. Yet having put the body through the first couple of kilometres and somehow gotten over the wall at 15km, time just seemed to seize up. And not because of the rhino that charged across the trail at some point to bring our plodding to a pause, but because the sum total of myself was in that space and time reduced to the motion of putting one foot in front of the other while I sucked at every draught of oxygen available, in a deliberate effort to finish the run while on my feet. The clock continued ticking and time kept going.

And yet in retrospect, it was erroneous of me to think that time was going then, or is going now. Time is not going. Because time is here until the world ends. It is you and I that are going. Going somewhere, assuming we are not wasting time. Time remains infinite even while we waste our finite selves. It is we that grow old and pass on; time doesn’t. So we must make better use of it. And one of the worst things to do with time is comparing ourselves to others, because just like marathoners, everyone is in their own space and time, up against themselves and their own goals. One person’s time is incomparable to another’s because, a goat eats grass and gets fat but if a dog eats grass, it will most probably die.

Our individual races are so diverse that comparing ourselves to others is futile and frustrating. Even people within a team, with shared goals and common objectives will not have the same drive and commitment towards the tasks at hand, though each will pull their weight in some way and contribute of themselves. I have learnt never compare myself with others, to run my race. Because what works for one person may be what will kill you. I find great peace in focusing on the gifts and talents God gave me without being envious of the blessings He gave others. They need their talents to survive and to be them; what you were bequeathed with is sufficient to make you a success in your chosen field. And you will only be tasked with accounting for your time, not anyone else’s.

I remember I waited a few years too long to actively start writing, much to the consternation of people around me who believed I had a useful talent to share. Was I waiting for the right moment, when I’d have enough time, money, and whatever else I thought I needed? Was I waiting until I was somehow qualified or had permission to do what I wanted to do? I really don’t know, but what I know is time ticked on while I was in that state of limbo. Truth is that none of us was ever pre-qualified. There is no vetting, no degree for “live your dreams.” Your qualification is garnered by showing up and working; by pulling on that training gear and getting onto the track; by typing that first letter at the keyboard; by mouthing that initial word in your speaking journey; by stringing that first note; by putting your hand up. You get to give yourself permission by deciding.

Because life is short, even though it’s the longest thing you will ever do. It does not give us time to push to tomorrow what we could do today, even though we do get away with this procrastination most of the time. Our future selves will either thank us or shamefully defend us for what we could do but are not doing today. Having lost my Dad over a decade ago just as I was embracing the blunders of youth, watching him waste away as abnormal leucocytes ate him up, I know that the greatest regrets experienced by gravesides are of things not done, words not said, feelings not expressed.

Seizing the moment must mean stepping away from our huge fitted flat-screen television sets and stepping into libraries and fitted reading rooms; shutting smartphones to activate our smarts. It means downtime of gadgets as we wind the day down so that we can plunge energetically into slumber and suck at sleep as if it were life and death. Because sleep literally is a determinant of how long we can prolong life. Because at every dusk we need to take a pause to review the day gone by and what we achieved, to empty the engine of smut, free up disk space for life’s functions, and in preparation for a better day at dawn. Because without this shut-down we fling ourselves from one tech-infused moment into the next without planning out our days, unable to properly set our priorities because early morning email and social media have already taken control of our time and set the agenda for the day, at the end of which we will have achieved nothing tangible.

In managing time and priorities, there is wisdom in giving the busy person the more sensitive tasks, and the lazy person the more mundane time-bound ones. Because the busy always make time while the idle seldom achieve anything. Well, apart from discovering at the last minute, the shortest, easiest way of achieving a task. But both busy and idle have equal chance to infuse passion in their lives by contributing to and being a part of something bigger than themselves, and thereby adding some sand into their hourglass.

Ask the rich man on his deathbed what more he would wish for and he will probably say time; ask the peasant on his last breathe what he would wish to get more of and he will most likely say time. In our hale and hearty states, we can probably do more with our time now, today and every day.

I have only just a minute, Only sixty seconds in it. Forced upon me, can’t refuse it. Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it. But it’s up to me. to use it. I must suffer if I lose it. Give account if I abuse it. Just a tiny little minute, but eternity is in it. ~ Benjamin E. Mays

Why Does Happiness Flee From Your Success?

Why Does Happiness Flee From Your Success 22052018
Arauna’s Threshing Floor ~ Archaeology Illustrated

‘Success is not the key to happiness; happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful’ ~ Albert Schweitzer

What’s your definition of success? In my earlier working career I really detested this question during team building group sessions, because in my own eyes I always came across as quirky by the responses I gave. It was akin to being asked what animal I would be if I were not human. When everyone was saying lion, I was into leopard; when everyone was saying money, I was into happiness. What was wrong with me? And how was I going to cut it in the harsh world of sales where happiness is fleeting and success is summarized on an excel sheet from last Quarter’s numbers?

It was only much later in life, having conquered to a large extent the rough and tumble world of a quarter-bearing representative that I felt vindicated. After the fun-fare, adulation, glitz, photoshoots and walled accolades die down and you trudge home on your own in the silence of the night, the question that lingers is, ‘and then?’. So after all the razzmatazz, what next? Did you hit the echelons of success? Why is it that rich kids are glum before their PST video screens and the poor kids are dancing in the rain? If wealth is the source of happiness then the rich should be dancing on the streets. But only poor kids do that (Anand Mahindra). How is this possible? Because to paraphrase Nietzsche, those who are seen dancing are thought to be insane by those who can’t hear the music.

It can be such a fallacy, this pursuit of the wind. The great Jim Rohn gives it some perspective when he observes how sad it is to see a father with money and no joy; such a father studied economics, but never studied happiness. Never grasped life. Is success the outward manifestation of happiness or vice versa? Can we derive one from the other? Does success bear happiness?

So your peers and contemporaries are rolling in it. Latest gadgets, vehicles, upmarket homes on lease or otherwise, social media images of them at the latest hottest joints with their jolly families adorning garb you only see in hip hop music videos… And you are asking yourself what you have been doing all this time and how you fell so far behind. But didn’t Morgan Freeman land his first major movie role at age 52? This Thomas Edison fellow, he of a thousand patents and the incandescent light bulb fame, must have known something about success and failure when he stated that many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

In any case, whose standard or measure of success are you using; the Joneses? Success is so fleeting that it is not to be pursued; rather it is to be attracted by the persons we become. What exactly is greening the Jones’s grass lawns; is it blood? Theft? Flesh-peddling? Narcotics? What’s so wrong with patiently building genuine value into our lives from good honest application of our skills and talents? Because man’s greatest happiness since time immemorial has never depended on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits. Just pursuits.

Bill Gates postures that success makes a very poor teacher; it teaches smart people that they cannot fail. In my opinion I believe it is because there is nothing new to learn at the top of the mountain; all the lessons and wisdom are in the bowels of the valley, on the threshing floor, at the bottom of the pit, on the canvas. It’s much easier to succeed if you’re not afraid to fail, and frequent failure banishes this fear.

Most people’s goals (those just pursuits) are completely logical, in that they don’t require much imagination. And because these goals are usual and commonplace, they certainly don’t require much faith, luck, magic, or miracles. Nothing radical that pushes their limits, ejects them from their comfort zone or inspires those around them to yearn for a similar drive and imagination as theirs. Clearly the more skeptical and secular we become the less context we have for life and meaning for personal growth. Without faith we cannot pursue drastic earthshaking moves that feed our human psyche with deep satisfaction. This lack of internal fire to aim beyond what we are capable of means we have too high a regard for where our abilities end. I dare say listing all the things one is unable to do like buying/owning their home, appearing on a billboard, performing on stage before a crowd, standing up for your rights etcetera and making it our business to do just that, sets us on the path to shift our mindset and our lives by extension. Only fear itself is to be feared.

So after we achieve these seemingly herculean tasks especially of acquisitions, we are momentarily happy and feel successful. Until we adapt to our new status, or other people we thought to be inferior to us also attain this status. Then the excitement of attainment fades away and we are back on the chase like zombies, for the next acquisition. It really is true then, just like in courtship, that sometimes savoring the anticipation or possibility of a desired outcome is generally more fulfilling and satisfying than the outcome itself. Seems once we get what we desire be it wealth, health or excellent relationships, we adapt and the thrill flees. As West Africans say, the child sleeps once it has eaten that thing for which it was keeping awake. But also often times the satisfaction sought ends up being underwhelming and I dare say often times disappointing; the sleep is sometimes peopled with nightmares. To quote Jack Higgins, when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.

Those blessed to bring up children know how this drill plays out. They feel like they need this specific rare expensive toy without which the universe will explode; their grand world of ‘belonging’ will be dictated by their acquiring this single thing, your budgeting be damned. But after you move the world to get them this toy the joy soon fades and they want something else, your hair be damned.

Unfortunately this phenomenon doesn’t only apply to kids. Which is why we have inexplicable overnight queues and insane stampedes whenever Apple or Samsung are launching their next release a few months after the last one.

Until you appreciate what you currently have, more won’t make your life better.

The biggest challenge in our pursuit of happiness is that most of us believe we must have something first (money, love, time) before we can do something (date, start a business, write a book, travel) which will then make us be something (motivated, in love, peaceful, contented, happy); we are stuck in a perfectly logical have-do-be rut. What I discovered rather late in the day is that to experience happiness or success or any of our true desires, one must actually reverse the ‘have-do-be’ paradigm so that we first be whatever we want to be (loving, wise, peaceful, happy) and then start doing things while in this state of (human) being. It follows almost by default that what we are doing will bring us the things we want to have.

This is because human beings attract what they are. If we desire the things that happy people have, we must get comfortable being happy, cultivate happiness, and be happy to get those things. We have to dare. If you are happy with what you are doing, you will find success in it. How will we get things that wealthy people have if we do not practice the discipline and industry that they did to get wealthy in the first place? The two most powerful warriors according to Leo Tolstoy are patience and time. But these do not work in isolation of attitude and industry. Because difficult things take a long time, and impossible things take a little longer (André A. Jackson). At the end of the day results translate from attitudes and behaviors, not the other way round.

So how can a mere mortal propel themselves to success without the advantage of gender, birthright, godfather, ethnicity, network or education? Gen Colin Powell reckoned that perpetual optimism is a force multiplier especially from the standpoint of execution. This is of course a corollary to what Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s popular war-time Prime Minister once said, that success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. In a nutshell, enthusiasm and optimism in whatever we think and do can generate unintended ripple effects, whether we are leading people or being led. Mastering the art of using pain and pleasure gives us power over a wide swathe of our emotions, and enables us channel this energy into activities that empower us. We take control of our environment and our fate.

There are a lot of happy people out there who find great pleasure in doing the things that others have said they cannot do. And they have found success in their own right and by their own definition. Which is what this pursuit was about in the first place; letting your happiness to deliver your success. Be-do-have… go forth and be happy!